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Public Health Understanding of Risk and Protective Factors

The field of public health has developed a systematic methodology for understanding and effectively preventing health problems. Through rigorous research, the etiology of diseases has been documented, and the factors contributing to those diseases have been identified. Once these contributing factors are understood, careful study and application of approaches to amend those factors have demonstrated reductions in the disease burden. For example, heart disease has been one of the primary causes of death among American adults. We now know, however, that adequate exercise, a healthy diet, and avoidance of smoking can help to prevent heart disease. These behaviors are considered protective factors, just as smoking, high blood pressure, and a family history of heart disease are considered risk factors for poor heart health.

Since the late 1970s, researchers in a variety of disciplines (for example, criminology, sociology, social work, psychology, community psychology, education) have been applying this public health approach to the study of the healthy development of young people. This work has created a field called prevention science, which identifies the factors that contribute to the healthy development of children and youth (protective factors) and the factors that impede that development (risk factors).

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Famous quotes containing the words protective, factors, risk, public and/or health:

    Diligence is a priceless treasure; prudence a protective charm.
    Chinese proverb.

    I always knew I wanted to be somebody. I think that’s where it begins. People decide, “I want to be somebody. I want to make a contribution. I want to leave my mark here.” Then different factors contribute to how you will do that.
    Faith Ringgold (b. 1934)

    It’s a funny thing, the less people have to live for, the less nerve they have to risk losing—nothing.
    Zora Neale Hurston (1891–1960)

    Most of the rules and precepts of the world take this course of pushing us out of ourselves and driving us into the market place, for the benefit of public society.
    Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592)

    Medication alone is not to be relied on. In one half the cases medicine is not needed, or is worse than useless. Obedience to spiritual and physical laws—hygeine [sic] of the body, and hygeine of the spirit—is the surest warrant for health and happiness.
    Harriot K. Hunt (1805–1875)